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C818
AUTOBAHN: Das Road

Jeffrey Syken

One of the myths that grew out of the creation of Germany’s world-famous Autobahn is that it was the brainchild of Germany’s “Third Reich” Fuhrer Adolf Hitler. Supposedly, it all appeared in his mind as a grand vision while he was serving a prison sentence and writing his manifesto: Mein Kampf. In fact, if you ask the average German today, they’re likely to tell you it was: “the one good thing he did for Germany.” In reality, the National Socialist (a/k/a “Nazi”) Party was vehemently opposed to a national motor vehicle network (such as the Autostrada being constructed by Fascist Italy starting in the early 1920s). As far as Hitler and the Nazis were concerned, the whole idea was an “Elitist Fantasy.”

Considering the fact that, in post-WWI Germany, private car ownership was, basically, only something the elite could afford, their argument was not entirely without merit. With the onset of the worldwide Depression, the economic situation grew even worse in Germany, with millions unemployed. When Hitler came to power in January 1933, suddenly the idea of building a national road network that would put thousands of the unemployed back-to-work started to make some sense, even if there would be few cars to use them. In fact, the unemployment situation was so desperate that in the early years of “Reichsautobahnen” construction, “hand work” (manual labor) was given priority over mechanization. With full employment and war clouds gathering by the late 1930s, that policy would change, by necessity.

Those foreigners who saw and traveled the “Motorways of Germany” in the pre-WWII years of the mid-to-late 1930s were suitably impressed, not least of all the highway engineers and, perhaps more importantly, the highway officials and politicians. It seemed that a portion of Norman Bel Geddes’ popular Futurama exhibit at the 1939/40 New York World’s Fair had been made manifest; bridges, viaducts, cloverleaf intersections, beautiful scenery, et al. However, they also couldn’t help noticing how few cars were using the new Autobahns. To solve that problem, the Fuhrer asked Ferdinand Porsche to design a “People’s Car” (a/k/a “Volkswagen”) to fill the empty Autobahns with affordable, fuel-efficient automobiles. Alas, WWII would interfere with those plans but in the post-WWII years a multitude of automobiles would appear on the old, and new, “Bundesautobahnen” as West Germany prospered and, ultimately, reunited with East Germany. The result: a national highway network that is the envy of the world.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.


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